|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
In our last study of the early church, we saw that the power behind Gods people men like Stephen, Philip, Peter, Barnabas, Paul, etc. was the Holy Spirit. This same power is available to us today and all that God is waiting for to manifest that power once again is for us to put self aside and let him take over. This was how it was with the early church and this is how the work will be finished in our day. Acts 1:8:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
In this study, as we turn to Acts 12, we come to the last study of the early church as our model and what we are going to discover is how the early church released Gods power. What we have been studying about the early church may have been twenty centuries away but we are not twenty centuries away from the Book of Acts, because what this book has recorded is the work of the timeless Spirit of God who is the same in every age. He is anxious to work today as He did 2,000 years ago.
In this twelfth chapter of Acts, Luke records for us three events which, at first, may seem to be unrelated, but, in carefully examining them, we find that this man of God was inspired to put them together to show us as well as instruct us on how Gods power was released in the early church. The three events are: the murder of the Apostle James, the deliverance of Peter from prison by the intervention of an angel, and the death of King Herod. First is the murder of James. Acts 12:1-3:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Here is an event that took place about the same time of the year as the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, during the Passover season. But now it is the year 44 A.D. We know this because the death of King Herod, also recorded here, took place about the same time and his death is recorded in ancient history. The church had been growing and expanding during these 12 years, but now the enemy of souls strikes and uses Herod to do his dirty work. This is not the Herod before whom Jesus appeared but his brother who was called Herod Agrippa, the father of the Herod before whom Paul would later appear.
When Herod discovered that the execution of James had pleased the opponents of the gospel, he decided to try to gain further favor with them by imprisoning none other than the Apostle Peter. But this time I want you to notice what happened. Acts 12:4-5:
After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
When James was arrested and than executed, we find no mention made about the church earnestly praying for him. But now, when Peter is arrested, they realize that things are becoming very serious and they cannot count on God intervening for the church automatically. So earnest prayer is made on behalf of Peter. And even though Herod has taken double care to make sure Peter cannot escape, let us see what happens next. Acts 12:6-11:
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. Quick, get up! he said, and the chains fell off Peters wrists.
Then the angel said to him, Put on your clothes and sandals. And Peter did so. Wrap your cloak around you and follow me, the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herods clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.
What a remarkable story! After what happened to James, there was no doubt in Peters mind he was to be executed the next day. And yet what do we find him doing? Fast asleep between two soldiers. How could he do it? No doubt the gospel had set him free from the fear of death. After all, this is what the gospel is all about. Hebrews 2:14-15:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
1 John 4:16-18:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Has the gospel set you free or are you still afraid of the judgment and afraid to die? This is the transformation that took place in Peters life since he denied the Lord at Pilates court. Now he was free, no longer afraid to die and God still had a work for him to do. But Peter had no idea that the church was earnestly praying for his deliverance. When the angel came to deliver him, he was utterly surprised so that he thought he was just dreaming the whole thing, that is, until he was outside the prison walls. Then notice what happened. Acts 12:12-17:
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peters voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without operning it and exclaimed, Peter is at the door!
Youre out of your mind, they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, It must be his angel.
But Peter kept on knocking and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. Tell James and the brothers about this, he said, and then he left for another place.
This is absolutely amazing! Here is Peter valiantly pounding on the door, while the girl inside is desperately trying to convince the believers that the man pounding outside is none other than Peter. At first they think she is insane, but after she convinces them that it is Peter and they open the door and find that she was telling the truth, they are amazed that God did answer their earnest prayer. Oh, ye of little faith.
Here is a discovery the early church made which we must discover, or rediscover today: the power of prayer. As we review the events of this two incidents the death of James and the deliverance of Peter we must ask the question: Why did God allow James to be killed and then turn around and deliver Peter? Could not have God delivered James, just as he did Peter? The answer, of course, is yes.
Could it be that God was trying to bring out a most important lesson for the church? The need for the church not to take things for granted but to realize they must be totally God dependent on Him? While no earnest prayer was offered for James, yet earnest prayer was made for Peter. This made the difference. Not that God needs our prayers but we need His power and prayer is the evidence that it is not by our might or our budgets or through promotional programs, but by His Spirit the work will be finished.
God has chosen prayer as the means to release His power in the life of the church. This is the great lesson Acts 12 has for us. God works in the same way today as He did in those first-century days. He will respond to our earnest prayer in very much the same way. This does not mean that everything we pray for He will grant. Sometimes God overrules our request because He knows what is best.
Today the church is facing major issues that no amount of human effort is able to solve. The church is polarized into all kinds of factions: divisions over the gospel, factions over the authority of Scripture, disagreement over church policy, the problem of breaking away from the organized church (congregationalism). The devil is having a hay day.
The time has come for us corporately as well as individually to earnestly seek the Lord in prayer. This cannot happen by promotional programs. We ourselves must realize the seriousness of the times we are living in. We are perhaps further over the edge than we realize and I hope that nothing drastic has to first happen before we wake up, as were the death of the James and the imprisonment of Peter before the early church woke up. Consider with me these texts of the New Testament that show how prayer releases the power of God. Matthew 7:7-8:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luke 18:1, 8:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. ...I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Gods will for you in Christ Jesus.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Finally, as we conclude our study of Acts 12, notice how this chapter ends with the death of Herod. His end is recorded as a warning to anyone who tries to oppose God and destroy His church. Acts 12:19b-24:
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the kings country for their food supply.
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, This is the voice of a god, not of a man. Immediately, because Herod di not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of God continued to increase and spread.